This is an HTML version of an attachment to the Freedom of Information request 'Legal Advice on Lobby Register'.


 
EUROPEAN COMMISSION 
 
 
Brussels, 4.10.2016 
C(2016) 6494 final 
 
Helen DARBISHIRE  
Access Info Europe 
Calle Cava de San Miguel 8, 4c 
28005 Madrid 
Spain 
DECISION OF THE SECRETARY GENERAL ON BEHALF OF THE COMMISSION PURSUANT 
TO ARTICLE 4 OF THE IMPLEMENTING RULES TO REGULATION (EC) N° 1049/20011 
Subject: 
Your confirmatory application for access to documents under 
Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 - GESTDEM 2016/2791 

Dear Mrs Darbishire, 
I refer to your letter of 18 August 2016, registered on 25 August 2016, in which you 
submit a confirmatory application in accordance with Article 7(2) of Regulation (EC) No 
1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission 
documents2 ('Regulation 1049/2001').  
1. 
SCOPE OF YOUR REQUEST 
In your initial application of 19 May 2016, addressed to the Commission's Legal Service 
(LS), you requested access to legal advice generated by and/or provided to the 
Commission regarding the lobby register, including any and all legal advice that 
considers the treaty basis for the register and whether or not it could be mandatory
.  
The LS has identified the following documents as falling under the scope of your request: 
(1) 
Note of the Legal Service to the Secretary General of 12 September 2006 
(reference JUR(2006)30417); 
(2) 
Note of the Legal Service to the Secretariat General of 17 September 2007 
(reference JUR(2007)30478); 
                                                 

Official Journal L 345 of 29.12.2001, p. 94. 
2    Official Journal L 145 of 31.5.2001, p. 43.  
 
Commission européenne/Europese Commissie, 1049 Bruxelles/Brussel, BELGIQUE/BELGIË - Tel. +32 22991111 
http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/secretariat_general/ 
E-mail: [DG SG request email]  
 

(3) 
Note of the Legal Service to the Head of Cabinet of Vice-President Maroš 
Šefcovič of 2 October 2013 (reference Ares(2013)3191712). 
In its initial reply of 27 July 2016, the LS granted partial access to all of the above-
mentioned documents. The undisclosed parts were redacted on the exceptions provided 
for in Article 4(2), second indent (protection of legal advice), Article 4(3), first 
subparagraph (protection of the decision-making process) and Article 4(1)(b) (protection 
of personal data) of Regulation 1049/2001.  
 
Through your confirmatory application you request a review of this position and present 
a series of arguments supporting your view. These will be addressed in the respective 
parts of this decision. 
 
I note that in your confirmatory application you explicitly point out that you do not wish 
to receive access to the parts redacted on the basis of the exception provided for in 
Article 4(1)(b) of Regulation 1049/2001. The scope of this confirmatory decision is 
therefore limited to the parts of the documents to which access was refused at initial stage 
based on the remaining two exceptions mentioned above.     
2. 
ASSESSMENT AND CONCLUSIONS UNDER REGULATION 1049/2001 
When assessing a confirmatory application for access to documents submitted pursuant 
to Regulation 1049/2001, the Secretariat-General conducts a fresh review of the reply 
given by the Directorate-General concerned at the initial stage. 
Following this review, I regret to inform you that I have to confirm the initial decision of 
the LS not to grant full or further partial access to the documents requested, based on the 
exceptions of Article 4(2), second indent (protection of legal advice) and Article 4(3), 
first subparagraph (protection of decision-making process) of Regulation 1049/2001, for 
the reasons set out below. 
2.1. 
Protection of legal advice and of the decision-making process 
Article 4(2), second indent of Regulation 1049/2001 provides that [t]he institutions shall 
refuse access to a document where disclosure would undermine the protection of: 
[…] 
court proceedings and legal advice 
Article 4(3) of Regulation 1049/2001 provides that [a]ccess to a document, drawn up by 
an institution for internal use or received by an institution, which relates to a matter 
where the decision has not been taken by the institution, shall be refused if disclosure of 
the document would seriously undermine the institution's decision-making process, 
unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure. 



In your confirmatory application, you argue that [t]he Commission does not explain how 
exactly disclosure of each of the 
[undisclosed parts of the] documents could specifically 
and effectively undermine the protection of legal advice. 
This view is supported with a 
detailed argumentation according to which the Commission did not provide a proper 
statement of reason demonstrating a link between the public release of the documents 
requested and the protection of the legal advice reflected therein.  
You also consider that the link between the refusal to release of the undisclosed parts of 
the documents and the underlying reasoning based on an alleged harm to the decision-
making process has not been established by the Commission in a sufficiently clear and 
comprehensive manner.  
As you question the applicability of both exceptions based on a similar reasoning, I will 
address these two exceptions together in this decision. Both exceptions apply to the 
redacted parts of the documents. 
Documents (1) and (2) were prepared by the Commission's Legal Service in the context 
of the preparatory work relating to the adoption of the Commission's proposal for the 
2011 Interinstitutional Agreement3, which in turn, led to the establishment of the 
Transparency Register for organisations and self-employed individuals engaged in EU 
policy-making and policy implementation. Document (3), as explained by the Legal 
Service, was prepared following the request of the Cabinet of the Commission's Vice-
President in charge of inter-institutional relations for the revision of the Interinstitutional 
Agreement in 20144. All three documents contain information constituting the 
assessment of various legal aspects discussed in the early phase of the preparation of the 
Agreement (documents (1) and (2)), or during the inter-institutional adoption process 
(document (3)).  
Documents (1) and (3) contain considerations regarding the possibility of rendering the 
common register of lobbyists mandatory and to a possible legal basis to that effect. 
Document (2) examines the issue of the possible sanctions under the Code of Conduct5. 
The information contained in documents (1) – (3) therefore constitutes legal advice 
within the meaning of Article 4(2), second indent of Regulation 1049/2001.  
These legal opinions are of particular sensitive nature. Firstly, Documents (1) and (3) 
relate to the different options as to the legal basis for a mandatory register of lobbyists. 
Document (3) is in addition a legal opinion of particularly wide scope as it gives a 
detailed interpretation of Articles 298 and 352 of the TFEU. This advice is thus not only 
relevant in the context of the current discussions on the lobby register but will be relevant 
in the framework of future questions where the interpretation of the concerned Articles 
may arise. The redacted parts of Document (2) relate to specific advice as to the attitude 
                                                 
3   European Parliament decision of 11 May 2011 on conclusion of an interinstitutional agreement 
between the European Parliament and the Commission on a common Transparency Register.  
4   Agreement of 19 September 2014 between the European Parliament and the European Commission on 
the transparency register for organisations and self-employed individuals engaged in EU policy-
making and policy implementation, OJ L 277, 19.9.2014, p. 11–24. 
5   Annex III to the Inter-institutional Agreement that establishes the standards of behaviour which must 
be respected by all interest representatives in their relations with the EU institutions 


of the Commission in case of non-compliance with the Code of Conduct and to specific 
options for sanctions in such situation. These sensitive legal questions have to be 
protected as the Commission has just launched a proposal for a new Interinstitutional 
Agreement on a mandatory Transparency Register covering besides the European 
Parliament and the Commission, the Council of the EU, to replace the 2014 version.  
In spite of the fact that the decision-making process linked to the adoption of the follow-
up (2014) Interinstitutional agreement has been finalised, the information contained in 
the undisclosed parts of documents (1) – (3) is thus still very relevant in the context of 
the currently ongoing revision of the Interinstitutional agreement and the establishment 
of a new version of the Transparency Register.  
In particular, the undisclosed information included in partially released documents (1) – 
(3) is still relevant for the purpose of the ongoing internal and further interinstitutional 
discussions, especially considering that in the context of those discussions, the 
Commission may be called upon, during or following that process, to review its proposal.  
Documents (1) – (3), which were drafted for internal use, therefore contain information 
relating to a matter for which a decision has not been yet taken, as the above-mentioned 
revision process is still fully ongoing. As the Legal Service explained in its initial reply, 
public disclosure of the redacted internal legal opinions reflected in documents (1) – (3), 
before the three institutions have adopted the interinstitutional agreement, could be used 
instrumentally by external parties trying to exert pressure on the decision and on the 
negotiation process. It would also lead to erroneous and premature conclusions about the 
Commission's rationale for opting for specific solutions in its proposal. That, in turn, 
would compromise the Commission's interest in, and possibilities for, seeking and 
receiving frank, objective and comprehensive legal advice. It would also have a negative 
effect on the ongoing discussions regarding the Commission's proposal for the new 
agreement, and on the Commission's margin of manoeuvre during these discussions. 
Indeed, depending on the outcome of these negotiations, the Commission may be called 
upon to revise its proposal. Releasing the internal legal opinions requested would 
undermine the Commission's freedom to explore all possible options free from external 
pressure6. 
It needs to be emphasised that the revision of the Interinstitutional Agreement is 
attracting a lot of attention of various actors representing opposing interests. Therefore, I 
consider the risk of such external pressure as reasonably foreseeable and not purely 
hypothetical.    
                                                 
6   Judgment of 13 November 2015, in cases T-424/14 and T-425/14, ClientEarth v Commission
(ECLI:EU:T:2015:848), paragraphs 94-96. 


Consequently, full public release of documents (1) – (3),  would seriously undermine 
these decision-making processes, as it would reveal preliminary legal assessments 
relating to the policy options which are currently under consideration in the framework of 
the ongoing inter-institutional discussions.  
In light of the above, I consider that the use of the exception under Article 4(2), second 
indent (protection of legal advice) and Article 4(3), first subparagraph of Regulation 
1049/2001 (protection of the decision-making process) is justified, and that access to the 
undisclosed parts of documents (1) – (3) must be refused on that basis. 
3. 
NO OVERRIDING PUBLIC INTEREST IN DISCLOSURE 
The exceptions laid down in Article 4(2), second indent and Article 4(3), first 
subparagraph of Regulation 1049/2001 must be waived if there is an overriding public 
interest in disclosure. Such an interest must, firstly, be public and, secondly, outweigh the 
harm caused by disclosure. 
In your confirmatory application, you argue that such an overriding public interest exists 
in this case and put forward a series of arguments in support of your view. These 
arguments are concentrated around three issues. Firstly, you point out that full disclosure 
of the documents requested would allow for a balanced and informed public debate to 
facilitate better decision making
. Secondly, the release of the undisclosed parts of the 
documents would help to obtain the best possible outcome in transparency register 
reform.  
Finally, public disclosure of documents (1) – (3) would be beneficial for 
ensuring accountability of EU Institutions and citizen participation.   
I understand that certain entities and organisations (which are part of the public) might 
have an interest in obtaining access to the documents in question. Nonetheless, I do not 
consider that the public release of the internal documents in question would be the most 
effective and appropriate way to achieve the results mentioned in your confirmatory 
application. As already mentioned in part 2 of this decision, the Commission is very 
much aware of the fact that reform of the Transparency Register is attracting a lot of 
attention of various actors, stakeholders and citizens. To this end the Commission invited 
the latter to have their say through the launch of a public consultation on the 
Transparency Register and its revision, which was recently closed. The Commission has 
received in this framework 1766 replies from stakeholders. The results were reflected in 
a report, which is publicly available on the Transparency Register website, and the 
Commission takes into account these results when drafting its proposal for a new 
Interinstitutional Agreement. The Commission has therefore put in place all necessary 
mechanisms in order to ensure full accountability, a balanced debate and citizen 
participation.  
It is not clear how releasing documents of a purely internal nature would add to that 
transparency.  As emphasised above, the review process is at a very early stage, and the 
Commission is dedicated to continuing keeping that debate free from undue external 
pressure in order to achieve the best outcome.  


Having regard to the above, I consider that at this stage, any possible public interest in 
transparency cannot outweigh the public interest in safeguarding the legal advice and the 
decision-making process protected, respectively, by the second indent of Article 4(2) and 
Article 4(3) of Regulation 1049/2001.  
Nor have I been able to identify any other public interest capable of overriding the public 
and private interests protected by Article 4(2), second indent and Article 4(3), first 
subparagraph of Regulation 1049/2001. 
4. 
PARTIAL ACCESS 
In accordance with Article 4(6) of Regulation 1049/2001, I have considered the 
possibility of granting (further) partial access to the documents requested. However, for 
the reasons explained above, no further partial access is possible without undermining the 
interests described above. 
In your confirmatory application you contest this by arguing that the Commission has 
failed to indicate whether all the exceptions apply to all redacted text of all the 
documents, or whether there are parts which, for example, fall under only the decision-
making exception and not that for protection of legal advice. 
 
As explained above, the entirety of the information7 included in documents (1) – (3) 
constitutes legal advice within the meaning of Article 4(2), second indent of Regulation 
1049/2001 and would put at risk the current decision making process of the institution if 
disclosed. Having examined these documents, I have come to the conclusion that no 
further partial access is possible to the undisclosed parts without undermining the 
interests referred to above. Consequently, access thereto is refused on the basis of the 
exceptions referred to above.   
5. 
MEANS OF REDRESS 
Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the means of redress that are available 
against this decision, that is, judicial proceedings and complaints to the Ombudsman 
under the conditions specified respectively in Articles 263 and 228 of the Treaty on the 
Functioning of the European Union. 
6. 
PARTS OF YOUR APPLICATION FALLING OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF REGULATION 
1049/2001 

In your confirmatory application you point out that the initial reply was provided by the 
LS with a significant delay. To this end, you request the Secretariat-General to address 
the question what the Commission is doing to solve the problem of serious delays in 
responding to requests.  

                                                 
7   Other than personal data, to which refusal of access was not contested in your confirmatory 
application.   



 
I certainly regret that the initial reply was not provided to you within the deadlines of 
Regulation 1049/2001 and can assure you that the Secretariat-General consistently 
endeavours to ensure the best possible application of Regulation 1049/2001 by all 
Commission services.  
 
Yours sincerely, 
 
 
For the Commission 
Alexander ITALIANER 
Secretary-General 

 


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